Why is my VOIP (Voice Over IP) Terrible? Is it my ISP?

Voice Over IP (VOIP) can be great.  All the features you ever wanted and needed…Inexpensive..Portable…Crystal Clear Voice Quality…  It CAN be great.

There are many cases where VOIP though can be terrible – Dropped calls, you can only hear about every other word, the other party can only hear your every other word, calls not going through…  It CAN be terrible.

If your VOIP service is on the terrible side – First – Let’s explore what’s the CAUSE of the problem.  The two major reasons for bad VOIP are – 1 – A Poor VOIP provider (yes, some are better than others) or 2 – a Poor Internet Service Provider (ISP) connection.

Here’s a simple test that I like to do in Windows that can generally tell me if your ISP/Internet connection is the problem:

We’re going to “Ping” Google (Why Google? – because Google servers are everywhere and I know if you get poor test results it is not Google’s problem).  A ‘ping’ is basically your computer sending a ‘packet’ (a small bit) of data out and giving you info about the response.   What we’re specifically looking for here is the response ‘time’.  A ‘ping’ response will be in milliseconds (ms) and on a good connection, SHOULD be under 100ms (typically will be around 25-50).  This means the ‘other’ computer should respond in less than 1/10 second.  Here’s how to do the test:

Bring up a command prompt (Start – All Programs – Accessories – Command Prompt).  This will bring up a DOS type box where you will type in:     ping google.com -t

Pinging GoogleYou should see something like the above.  You should monitor this (or just let it run – it will continuously run until you tell it to stop or close the window) for at least a few minutes.  I usually let it run for about 10-20 minutes unless I see problems sooner.  You can ‘stop’ the test by pressing the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘c’ keys on your keyboard at the same time.

Keep your eye on the ‘time’ column.  Typically, if the problem is your ISP, you will see LARGE numbers here.  You may see several in the 30s, then it will jump up to 400, then back down to the 30s again, then maybe up to 800ms.  That basically means that it is taking .8 seconds for your computer to get a response.  In VOIP terms, with an 800ms ‘time’, your ‘voice’ (sent in data packets to your VOIP provider) will take .8 seconds or longer to reach the other party – which is WAY too long (and will typically result in the ‘drop outs’ you are hearing).  You may also experience a “request timed out”.  This means the response took too long and it’s moving on.  If you stop the test after several minutes (with the Ctrl+c), it will give you a summary at the bottom.  Your ‘maximum’ should hopefully be close to your average and your ‘Lost’ percentage should be 0% or 1%.  The ‘occasional’ slightly higher (maybe 125ms) ‘time’ would not bother me, but if you are having consistent (more than one per minute) high numbers or a higher than 1% Loss, your network/ISP is the problem here.

If this is you, the next thing to do would be to connect your computer (if not already) DIRECTLY to your ISP’s modem, unplug everything else from it and do the test again.  Doing this will rule out any other hardware on your network causing problems (also make sure your computer is not running anything else while doing this test).  If the high response times go away, then something on your network is causing the problem.  If the problem remains, it’s time to call your ISP!

If you are having problems only when connected to your network (vs being the only connection directly to the modem), there are many things that can cause this.  (sorry, here’s where it gets a bit technical) You may want to find out if your Router supports (QoS – Quality of Service).  This is a feature where you can tell your router to prioritize one type of data (your voice) on your network vs other types of data – like checking your email.

If you think the problem is with your VOIP provider/equipment, you may want to take the equipment (as long as your ISP is not your VOIP provider also) to another Internet connection and try it there.  If your VOIP connection works poorly on multiple Internet connections, than the problem is likely with the VOIP provider.

Many inexperienced ‘computer people’ look at your Internet BANDWIDTH and think that is the problem.  They may tell you that your 10mbps connection needs to be increased.  I find that this is almost never the real cause.  One VOIP connection typically takes LESS than 1/10 of 1 mbps (mega-bit per second).  So even if you just have a 2mbps Internet speed (remember, we have to look at your Download and Upload speed here), your VOIP call will be taking up less than 5% of your bandwidth.  So increasing your ISP bill to move it from 5% usage to 3% usage is not going to fix the problem (in most cases)!

If you need some help troubleshooting your VOIP connection, we have a lot of experience with this at Discount Computer Service.  Give us a call if we can help!  410-358-7300.

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